Wander into any art gallery about town, any performance or music venue, or any corner bookshop hosting a reading in the Twin Cities, and you’re bound to encounter something extraordinary, mesmerizing and downright memorable from a woman counted among Minnesota’s creative movers and shakers. Our great state is home to myriad women artists who span all spectrums of creative productivity – and at Twin Cities PBS, we’ve been lucky enough to capture a few of their stories along the way.
So whether it’s Women’s History Month or any other month, we offer up a salute to all the Minnesota women who carve out a space for artistic endeavors. If you ever find yourself needing a little inspiration to bring to life that dream in your mind’s eye, then this collection of local artists is sure to give you that “get-up-and-go” energy you need.
For more than 30 years, filmmaker Maxine Davis has searched for projects that make the world a little better. Paddle through Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes as she discusses her film, Women Outward Bound, a documentary that chronicles her experiences as one of the first young women admitted into an Outward Bound School in 1965, as well as the reunion of that first class of female adventurers, now in their 60s, in 2012.
As an added benefit, you’ll inevitably feel the snaky pull of summer as Davis maneuvers her way from lake to lake and ponders the possibilities of her next project.
Poet. Artist. Oral historian. Politician. “Community icon.” Andrea Jenkins is everywhere, constantly on the move, forever on a quest to experiment and push boundaries. In November 2017, her election to the Minneapolis City Council made her the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the entire nation. In addition to her political and creative pursuits, she is also the lead curator at the University of Minnesota’s Transgender Oral History Project, an effort aimed at weaving transgender voices and experiences into our collective historical record.
Inspired by the one-and-only Gwendolyn Brooks, who paid Jenkins’ Chicago grade school a visit and told the class that anyone could write poetry, her first forays into poetry allowed her to feel “more comfortable and open in the world” as a transgender woman. No matter how her creative spirit takes shape, for Jenkins, art is an essential conduit to inspiring people to explore the “important issues of our time.”
Plus, her performance of snippets from her poem, “Black Pearl,” will send shivers up and down your spine.
Art historian Julie L’Enfant tells the story of two of Minnesota’s pioneering female artists at the beginning of the 20th Century, which she shares in her book Pioneer Modernista. Known for her etchings and paintings, Clara Mairs made her mark on Saint Paul and the rest of the world. In 1928, she darted off to Paris with fellow artist Clem Haupers to study etching. There she indulged her love of pattern and design, finding inspiration in the larger-than-life spectacles of the City of Light. When she returned to Saint Paul, she brought with her innovative creative techniques, as well as newfound desire to move against the social current.
Known for her stirring portraits, painter Frances Cranmer Greenman was in an enviable position in the early 20th Century: As an only child, both of her parents fully supported her artistic ambitions at a time when it was unusual for women to carve out a career of their own. Despite some moving experiments in portraiture, she aimed to be a “fashionable portrait painter,” so those efforts were inevitable pushed to the side.
As L’Enfant explains, these women and their contemporaries laid a strong foundation for the arts and artists in Minnesota for decades to come.
Visual artist Harriet Bart’s work often revolves around the concept of memory. Whether she’s creating a living “map” of Afghanistan out of chain link and dog tags to memorialize the soldiers who have died there or using books to create stone-like walls or mesmerizing sculpture, her work prompts you to pause and to reflect on the past and its impact on the present moment. When she began her art career in the 1970s, she found few role models until she joined the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota, a group that bound together to offer support as members forged careers in the art world.
Best summed up as “bricolage,” a process that brings seemingly disparate things together, her art revolves around “telling the truth and a little discomfort.”
Named after a Babes in Toyland song, Bruise Violet features three young women who dart from screeching to three-part harmonies as easily as water rolls down a hill. Juggling schoolwork and after-school activities, the bandmates met while participating in School of Rock, a music-education facility that has given flight to many bands over the years. And like their predecessors, Babes in Toyland, the musicians resist the label “riot-grrrl,” w phrase overused in the 1990s to describe any collection of female artists with a penchant for angry lyrics.
Still, listening to their 2017 performance of “Jeremy” on Lowertown Line is sure to stir a hint of ferocity – the kind that makes you want to turn your chair into a pile of rubble as you dance around the room.
How to describe the magic that is Brownbody? Led by Artistic Director Deneane Richburg, a Brownbody experience transports you to a place in which the past, the present and the unknowable future collide in full force. Blending modern dance, figure skating that swerves away from what we expect in televised spectacles, soundscapes and immersive experiences, the company explores African-American history, racial identity and social justice in ways that trigger sometimes difficult questions about our societal tendency to champion the civil rights strides we’ve made.
But a Brownbody show also mesmerizes, as a slew of different artistic elements crash together to create something wholly unique.
Focused on printmaking and installation art, Hend Al-Mansour felt the spark of creativity at a young age – but at her parents’ encouragement, she went to medical school in Egypt before returning to her native Saudi Arabia to begin her career as a cardiologist. But a fellowship to the Mayo Clinic in 1997 allowed her to leave behind Saudi Arabia, where, she explains, women must have guardians to make decisions on their behalf.
Still, those creative pangs persisted, and she realized that she would never truly find fulfillment in medicine – so she began to focus more on her art. Tapping into the significance of textile art – rugs, drapery, robes – in the Middle East, she uses traditional materials to project her idea about women in the 21st Century.